X

Fitbit Ace LTE Looks Like a Game-Infused, Phone-Enabled Delight for Kids

Hands-on thoughts: available to order now, it looks like a great alternative to the Apple Watch.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
4 min read
Three Fitbit Ace LTE watches on a wooden table

The Fitbit Ace LTE has fitness, games, phone service and a variety of swappable straps. But it's specifically made for kids.

Scott Stein/CNET

As my 11-year-old son threw his arm in the air, casting a virtual fishing rod, I saw he already liked Fitbit's new Ace LTE fitness watch. Google's newest smartwatch isn't for grown-ups, you see -- it's made specifically for kids. The funny thing is, after seeing how it works, I want one too.

I've thought about games and fitness for years now, and not just on watches. I play Beat Saber and Supernatural on Meta's Quest VR headsets and Ring Fit Adventure on the Nintendo Switch. I've wondered why smartwatches haven't blended gaming and fitness more. The Fitbit Ace LTE, arriving next week for $230, looks exactly like the fitness game console-on-a-wrist concept I've waited for, but alas, it's not for me. It's made for kids like my son, who seems to be having a blast.

Watch this: Fitbit Ace LTE Hands-On: The Apple Watch Just Got a Competitor for Kids

The Fitbit Ace LTE is a strangely named product (although not the LTE part since it does have LTE phone service). Its name suggests it's sort of like previous Fitbits, but doesn't mention its built-in gaming features at all. Taking a closer look at the new watch, it's a lot more like Google's Pixel Watch transformed into a Fitbit product. The squircle-shaped display looks like Fitbit's previous smartwatches at a distance, but the colors and animations are far more vivid. Google's Tensor chipset in the Pixel Watch 2 is onboard, and it looks capable of creating graphic effects that look really beautiful.

The Ace tracks fitness like other Fitbits, including having always-on heart rate monitoring, but the algorithms are specifically tuned for children, along with new fitness goals. A little animated, jiggling "noodle" wraps around the watch's time display, showing fitness progress. When the daily goal is met, the noodle has a victory animation: it could show a rocket or an arcade snake.

A kid wearing a Fitbit Ace LTE watch

That snake-thing, that's the Noodle.

Scott Stein/CNET

The designs and animations can be changed, and depending on the snap-on strap you get, others can be added. The Velcro straps are recognized via smart pins with the watch, unlocking themes to match the straps. It's the first time I've seen this done on a smartwatch, and it's a clever idea; for $35 a strap, you're getting extra content packs for the watch along with it.

The entire colorful package looks a lot more creative than what the Apple Watch offers for kids. I set up an Apple Watch up for my older son years ago, but its OS and features were no different-looking than any other normal Apple Watch experience.

A fishing game on a watch screen, on a wrist

I squeezed it onto my hairy adult wrist to try a fishing game.

Scott Stein/CNET

The games I saw and briefly played along with my son on the Fitbit Ace LTE had a surprising amount of motion, like Nintendo Wii or Switch experiences on my wrist. A golf game involves hand swings, plus tapping to new holes. The fishing game not only involves arm casting (and reeling in when you feel a haptic buzz on your wrist), but you can turn and look around the landscape on-screen, the view shifting based on your movement. A kart racer that uses wrist movements to steer feels like a miniaturized Mario Kart. It's all a lot more charming and well done than I ever expected from Fitbit and Google.

To play these games, you need currency -- and that's where the fitness gamification comes in. Kids do activities to earn the currency and spend it to play games…or unlock special items for a virtual companion on the watch that's like a little human Tamagotchi, called "Eejie," that lives in a world called Bit Valley where you can add decorations sort of like Nintendo's Animal Crossing. It's like earned credits that you get for going out and getting some activity. Kids can invite their parents to get active, too, and earn some bonus credits.

A blue Fitbit Ace LTE watch on a wooden table, with straps nearby

The Fitbit Ace LTE has a variety of straps, and they can unlock extra watch faces and in-game items.

Scott Stein/CNET

The Fitbit Ace LTE is cellular-enabled and is designed to work with a subscription. The watch can be set up to work with iOS and Android, although the watch itself is made to be a stand-alone device. For $10 a month, you get phone service, location tracking and messaging through a Fitbit Ace app for parents and games that get added over time via the Fitbit Arcade. Surprise games appear over time, which reminds me of the sort of whimsical feeling of the Panic Playdate handheld gamer. Can Google and Fitbit make the Ace LTE feel as fun and as magical?

A hand holding a phone with an app showing trusted contacts

The Fitbit Ace phone app is where contacts are managed, and location tracking services.

Scott Stein/CNET

The phone app that gets messages from the Ace can be used to program in up to 20 trusted numbers. On-watch the messages can be sent as audio clips, dictated into text or typed with an onscreen keyboard. The location tracking feature appears to provide a quick ping on where your kid is. There's also a "school time" mode that can be set to lock down game functions while at school and can be remotely activated or deactivated on the fly if needed.

The Fitbit Ace LTE's specs are certainly impressive: a Gorilla Glass 3 OLED display, 50-meter water resistance for swimming, altimeter/gyroscope/magnetometer, always-on heart rate monitor, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC (with Tap to Pay coming soon), GPS and Wi-Fi/LTE. The watch fast-charges in 30 minutes for about 11 hours of use, but Google says a full charge will last 16-plus hours. 

My kid was impressed, although we tried the watch for only about half an hour. The Fitbit Ace LTE is available to order now, and CNET will dive into a full review of the watch we're setting up soon.